Ireland kept their thinning hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Euro championships alive with a goal in the dying minutes to grab a deserved draw against Poland at the Aviva stadium. Martin O’Neill’s Ireland now sits in fourth spot in Group D behind Poland, Germany and Scotland. They need to fight their way to third place in order to qualify for the playoffs. So the team find themselves with their backs to the wall needing what looks like at least two big results from their three crucial games against Scotland, Poland and Germany.
The 1-1 draw against Poland saw an Irish team emerge that looked to play the ball around and create attacking chances in the second half, which has not been seen for some years. The first half saw a choppy Irish performance typified by a defensive mistake that allowed Polish midfielder Peszko break through to score with a cracking left footed strike after twenty-five minutes. Irish fans witnessed a revival of football in the second half, the boys in green dominated in a period of positive possession for a solid 30 minutes. Most encouraging was the belief the players found in their ability to put the ball on the floor and pass it; playmaker Wes Hoolahan here was finally in his element as the nucleus and heartbeat of the Irish attacking play. The team’s movement in the Polish half and down the flanks saw them craft numerous chances that left the visitors somewhat lucky Ireland were less than clinical in finishing in front of goal. Poland dug in and held firm until a late Shane Long goal saw Ireland finally grab an equaliser and a hard fought point. O’Neill has nurtured an ethos of work ethic and positive play within the team, but it will be scant consolation if Ireland don’t get the wins required to qualify.
Ireland’s campaign will come down to their performance in the crunch away games against Poland and Scotland. Ireland then can afford no slips ups in their games against the smaller opposition Georgia and Gibraltar. Although the World Cup winners Germany have had a jetlagged first half to their qualifying campaign, most would expect the German side to exert their dominance in the final games. Germany will come to the Aviva in October with the likely end-game of securing an efficient three points.
Ireland therefore will travel to Glasgow needing to win to keep a viable chance of qualifying alive. Scotland are a hard working unit that will make an Irish away win an almost outside bet. The Scot’s outplayed Ireland in the Aviva last year to earn a solid 1-0 victory. The Irish side will have to bring some of the positive flashes of attacking football seen against Poland to a consistent level, or face crashing out of the Euros. Failure to overcome Scotland, although not instantly ending Ireland’s campaign, will mean the team will be pinning their hopes on results against Germany and Poland to qualify. Ireland’s realistic chances of progressing then will either be lifted or dashed in what may turn out to be the decisive game for third place in Glasgow this June against Scotland.